LaQuinta Resort Mountain Course: Was That Couples Picking Up Balls?

By David R. Holland, Contributor

Next time you are hitting balls at the LaQuinta Resort and Club's practice range take notice of the guy driving the vehicle that picks up the balls. You never know who it's going to be.

About 20 years ago it was Fred Couples.

"It's quite a story," said Tim Walton, General Manager and PGA Class A Professional. "Couples was right out of college (University of Houston) and he came here looking for a home course. He was working at the range picking up the balls.

"One day Couples was playing and he joined up with Ernie Vossler, founder and owner of LaQuinta Resort. Couples didn't know who he was - he told Vossler he wanted to play on the tour and thought LaQuinta would be a great place to improve his game," Walton said.

Vossler, a three-time winner himself on the PGA tour, finally told Couples who he was and a friendship and business relationship formed. If you were watching this year's Skins Game award ceremony you saw Couples (the winner) thank Vossler and partner Joe Walser for giving him his start in the desert.

The LaQuinta Mountain Golf Course is ranked No. 17 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play list. It is carved out of the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, a par-72, 6,756 yards from the back, and demands strategic shots to small, firm, crowned greens. Pete Dye's Mountain Course is right beside another one of his creations.

The Mountain's par-3 No. 16, a downhill 167-yard beauty, butting up to a huge talus slide, was just named one of the 500 Best Holes in the World by Golf Magazine.

"No. 16 is our signature hole," Walton said. "You are either on the green or in trouble. To the right is the mountain and to the left is a very deep bunker."

"It's target golf," Walton continued. "There are some hidden pot bunkers and tough pin placements. You need to err on the long side of the green. On this type of course if you miss a shot on the short side of the greens you will have trouble making par."

The back side is the most beautiful. On No. 14, the No. 2 handicap hole, you are hitting back toward the mountain. To the right of the green is no-man's land with rock and desert vegetation. It's a par-4, 389 yards.

On the 15th, a par-5, 524 yards, there is a huge waste area to the left and the mountain to the right. The par-4 17th, at 446 yards requires a tee shot carry over rocks and a ravine, with one of Dye's huge long-running bunkers guarding all down the left side. The right side of the fairway meets the mountain.

On this day in late November the Mountain Course was struggling with its overseeding program. The desert courses switch from summer Bermuda to winter rye grass in September and October and most courses either shut down are have much lower fees.

When the TV cameras come to the desert near Thanksgiving for the Skins Game and The Lexus Challenge, the fees start to rise and the folks with snow on the ground in Michigan start to think about a desert vacation. Soon after the first of the year comes the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

The LaQuinta Mountain Course is always high on the snowbird's list.

The PGA Q-School was held here in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1998. The PGA Club Professional Tourament was held here in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1995. LaQuinta Mountain was home to the Ladies NCAA Finals in 1996.

CHIP SHOTS: It was 20 years ago that Vossler and Walser commissioned Dye to build the LaQuinta Dunes course. Then came the Mountain course. The duo didn't stop there. Vossler envisioned that golf was headed toward the mountains and he and Walser bought 2,400 acres and made a deal with the PGA of America and PGA Tour to use the name PGA West. To use the name PGA West they had to pay $1,000 for every house that was built on the property.

Currently PGA West has five courses - Dye's TPC Stadium Course, two by Jack Nicklaus, one by Arnold Palmer, one by Tom Weiskopf and a sixth course, which opened in December, by Greg Norman.

Directions: From I-10 take Washington south. Go past Highway 111. Turn right on Eisenhower Drive and proceed south. Go past the entrance to LaQuinta Resort one block and turn right on Calle Mazaltlan and proceed through the security gate. Turn left at Avenida Vista Bonita. The golf courses are a short drive on the left.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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